New York

Mary Lucier

Chase Manhattan Plaza

A big question in any video installation is what to do with the TV sets. At this point in the development of TV technology the equipment that generates the illusion can’t be physically separated from the image itself.

In Ohio at Giverny, her video installation in last year’s Whitney Biennial, Mary Lucier hid the work’s seven monitors behind a white wall—a simple solution that made the piece look like a series of pictures hung along the gallery, the “series of portholes” that exhibitions of perspective-based paintings were dismissed as by some Modernist critics. In Winter Garden, installed in a corner of this echoey, glass-walled, Modernist-anomic bank lobby, Lucier enshrouded her monitors—six, in various sizes—in chic containers shaped like unusual geometric solids, all covered with mat Colorcore Formica in decorator pastels. TV sets are inherently furniture, and the motif here was Italian modo, with Lucier’s five units (one, a long horizontal, held two monitors) clustered together like merchandise in the back room of a Soho design atelier.

The effect was both silly and sublime. The fact that the boxes were much larger than the screens embedded in them made me wonder what else besides the circuitry might be inside (well, you could fit a stereo into that one, and a liquor cabinet might squeeze in there . . . ). Moreover, the shapes of the containers evoked further images for the piece and, by extension, for TV-watching in general—for example, a pink pyramidal form, like a squat guard box, had a small screen set at eye-level into one of its faces, suggesting a keyhole in a door.

By the same token, though, these crystalline forms had an attractive intimacy, and successfully held their own against the sterile surroundings. Their softly colored facets picked up the gray light that filtered down the canyons formed by the surrounding buildings; perhaps most important, the modish luxe of these “consoles” matched the stylized lyricism of the two tapes shown on the monitors. These tapes, delicate views of Japanese gardens, buildings in lower Manhattan, and closeups of flowers, are shot and edited in the quiet, gliding style of slow-motion pans and mechanized zooms featured in Ohio at Giverny. Winter Garden doesn’t answer the many questions posed by the chimerical genre of video installations—part sculpture, part TV, part audiovisual presentation, part electronic theater—but Lucier’s provocative work provided a floral oasis in Manhattan’s corporate-Modernist desert: a welcome refuge in a cold winter.

Charles Hagen